Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Imperatives of Discipleship

Mark 8:27-38

Below is my rough translation and some exegetical notes for Mark 8:27-38. Because this text comes up several times in the common lectionary, I am not approaching it quite as naively as I usually try to approach the texts. I want to be as up front about my approach as possible, knowing that I may well be misjudging things. I have three perspectives that differ with how I hear this text treated often. The translation details are in the verse-by-verse comments. 
1. When Jesus asks, "Who do people ... " and then later "Who do you say that I am?" it is often treated as a pop quiz for the disciples, to gauge whether they have been paying attention well. I see it as a more contentious matter. By translating the verb ἐπερωτάω as "interrogate" and leaning strongly into the present tense of the question, "Who are people/you saying me to be?" I am reading this question as Jesus getting to what others are saying and how the disciples are contributing to that conversation. 
2. When Peter answers, "You are the Christ," it is often treaded as a positive moment, when Peter declares his belief in Jesus' messiahship. I see this as Peter answering what he, and presumably the others, are contributing to the conversation about who Jesus is. 
3. When Jesus "rebuked them" and orders them to say nothing (v.30), it is often seen as another example of the "Messianic Secret." I see it as directly connected to the conversation that both precedes and follows v. 30. The disciples ought not to be contributing that answer to the conversation about who Jesus is and Jesus' rebuke of them is the first of several "rebukes" in this story, including Peter rebuking Jesus in v.32. 
The point: I believe this is a heated roadside argument between Peter (on behalf of the twelve) and Jesus over which direction they should take. Peter seems to have a triumphalistic view in mind of what it means to call Jesus “the Christ.” Jesus insists on taking another kind of path, using the language “Son of Man,” which includes suffering and death. I will explain my position at the end of the translation, but throughout I will go with the most intense interpretation of the words in this story which demonstrate how contentious I believe Mark intends it to be. 
27 Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν  Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς κώμας Καισαρείας τῆς 
Φιλίππου: καὶ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ἐπηρώτα τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ λέγων αὐτοῖς, Τίνα 
με λέγουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι εἶναι;
And Jesus and his disciples went into the village of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he was interrogating his disciples, saying to them, “Who are the people saying me to be?”
ἐξῆλθεν AAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of  1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the  point from which he departs  
ἐπηρώτα ,IAI 3s, ἐπερωτάω, 1) to accost one with an enquiry, put a question to, enquiry of,  ask, interrogate  2) to address one with a request or demand  2a) to ask of or demand of one 
λέγων: PAPart nsm,λέγω1) to say, to speak
λέγουσιν PAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἶναιPAInf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. The verb “interrogate” (ἐπερωτάω) could be translated as “asked” (KJV, NIV, ESV, NRSV), but it also could take on a more intensive meaning because of the prefix (ἐπ). In Mt. 16:1, for example, the NRSV translates this verb that the religious leaders “ask” Jesus for a sign, but the editors make the subheading that they “demand”a sign. There are other words that could carry a much less ambiguous simple request or casual inquiry. This is one of those terms that Mark uses in a way that seems to indicate confrontation, not just inquiry. If we go with “interrogating,” then this conversation is not merely a matter of curiosity. Jesus is initiating this question to give them the right answer, contrary to what Simon Peter thinks. 

 28 οἱ δὲ εἶπαναὐτῷ λέγοντες [ὅτι] Ἰωάννην τὸν βαπτιστήν, καὶ ἄλλοι, Ἠλίαν,
 ἄλλοι  δὲ ὅτι εἷς τῶν προφητῶν. 
Yet they answered him saying, [“]John the Baptist; and others, Elijah, yet still others one of the prophets.[”]
εἶπαν: AAI 3p, λέγω1) to say, to speak
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω1) to say, to speak
1. This verse has evidently been worked over a bit in the scribal process. The brackets around the [ὅτι] signify that other manuscripts do not have this word. I use the Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition (1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart) that is available via It is simply not a part of my exegetical work to compare Greek texts, so some help on this score would be appreciated. 
2. It seems – just from a quick glance and gut feeling – that the scribal edits here have to do with locating whether the participle “saying” is part of the quote or introduces the quote. The difference could look like this: “The disciples answered, saying ‘John the Baptists …’” or “The disciples answered, ‘They are saying John the Baptist …’”
3. The phrase “still others” is how the NRSV and NIV try to interpret the “δὲ ὅτι ” phrase. 

29 καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπηρώτα αὐτούς, Ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; ἀποκριθεὶς  
Πέτροςλέγει αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶ  Χριστός.
And he was interrogating them, “But who are you saying me to be?” Having answered Peter says to him, “You are the Christ.”
ἐπηρώτα, IAI 3s, 1) to accost one with an enquiry, put a question to, enquiry of,  ask, interrogate  2) to address one with a request or demand  2a) to ask of or demand of one 
λέγετε, PAI 2p, λέγω1) to say, to speak
εἶναι PAInf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω1) to say, to speak
εἶ: PAI 2s,  εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. Usually I translated the particle “δὲ” as “yet” because I try to keep the meaning as neutral as possible in the naïve translation. Then, perhaps, after word studies, contextual studies, etc. it might be appropriate to go with “and” or “then” or “but” – all of which are perfectly acceptable translations of δὲ. Since I am building a case here, I have interpreted Jesus’ use of δὲ as “but,” to show that he is expecting something different from the disciples. 
2. Peter’s response, that Jesus is “the Christ,” seems to be a great breakthrough moment in Mark’s gospel, given how often the twelve are said not to understand what is going on. However, see my comments below the translation on why I think this may be incorrect.
3. Notice that for this verse and v. 27 I am trying to keep the present tense of the question centered. It seems that "who are they saying" and "who are you saying" imply an ongoing conversation, more than just a "what have you heard?" Jesus is curious as to what the twelve are contributing to this ongoing conversation. In that sense, I think Peter is speaking on behalf of the twelve, not simply stepping forward with his own personal conviction. "Who are they saying that I am?" "They're saying that you are Elijah, etc." "But what are you contributing to this conversation? Who are you saying that I am?" Simon answered, "That you're the Christ."  And that is why Jesus immediately rebukes them, not him, in the next verse.     

30 καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδενὶ λέγωσιν περὶ αὐτοῦ. 
And he rebuked them in order that they should be saying to no one about him. 
ἐπετίμησεν:AAI3s, ἐπιτιμάω See v. 32, 1) to show honour to, …  4) to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely  4a) to admonish or charge sharply 
λέγωσιν: PASubj  3p, λέγω1) to say, to speak
1. The verb “rebuked” (ἐπιτιμάω) gets curious treatment in this passage from translators. ἐπιτιμάω appears here and in v.32 and in v.33. In vv.32-3 almost all translations have “rebuke” (NRSV, NIV, ESV, YLT, KJV). But, in v.30, all of them soften the word to “warned” (NIV), “charged” (KJV), “strictly charged” (YLT, ESV). The NRSV doesn’t use “rebuke,” but it does maintain some of the edginess of the verb with “sternly ordered.” Why are the translations not consistent on translating this word? Why do they see Jesus’ response to Peter in v.30 differently than they see Peter’s response to Jesus in v.32 and Jesus’ other response to Peter in v.33? 
2. I think the reason for the translation choices is because we typically see this as Peter’s breakthrough moment. By using the same word consistently throughout the translation, we raise the question: If this is Peter’s great breakthrough moment, why would Jesus immediately rebuke him? And if Peter is speaking simply on his own behalf, why is Jesus rebuking 'them'? 
3. I simply do not believe Peter is making a faithful response. He is describing Jesus with a word, "Christ," which I certainly have no argument with. But, Jesus did have an argument with it. And that leads me to assume that the word "Christ" was loaded with meaning that Jesus was trying to avoid. (As an example, think of the difficulty of the phrase "Christ the King." What is intended to be honorific can also be misleading, if one's familiarity with the role of "king" is that of an imperious conqueror. So it goes with symbols and words - they can lose their meaning or take on connotations that are contrary to the original intention.) It seems to me that, for Mark, Jesus is really resisting this title, not just trying to control the message or keep it a secret. 

31 Καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτοὺς ὅτι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου πολλὰ 
παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ τῶν ἀρχιερέων 
καὶ τῶν γραμματέων καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστῆναι:
Then he began to teach them that it is binding that the Son of Man to suffer much, and to be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and to be killed, and after three days to rise.
ἤρξατο : AMI 3s, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
διδάσκειν: PAInf, διδάσκω, 1) to teach  1a) to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them,  deliver didactic discourses
δεῖ: PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains  1b) metaph.  1b1) Satan is said to bind a woman bent together by means of a  demon, as his messenger, taking possession of the woman  and preventing her from standing upright  1b2) to bind, put under obligation, of the law, duty etc
παθεῖν:AAInf, πάσχω, 1) to be affected or have been affected, to feel, have a  sensible experience, to undergo  1a) in a good sense, to be well off, in good case  1b) in a bad sense, to suffer sadly, be in a bad plight  1b1) of a sick person 
ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι: APInf, ἀποδοκιμάζω, 1) to disapprove, reject, repudiate 
ἀποκτανθῆναι: APInf, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever  1a) to destroy, to allow to perish  2) metaph. to extinguish, abolish  2a) to inflict mortal death  2b) to deprive of spiritual life and procure eternal misery in hell 
ἀναστῆναι: AAInf, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up  1a) raise up from laying down  1b) to raise up from the dead  1c) to raise up, cause to be born, to cause to appear, bring forward 
1. The ὅτι can either be translated as “that” (see the NRSV) or signify the beginning of a quote. Because v.32 makes a reference to what Jesus says here, I’m interpreting it as a quotation. 
2. The verb “binding” (δεῖ /δέω) is typically translated as “must,” but it is a verb and it has the primary meaning of something being in chains – which gives it intensity and necessity. 
3. The phrase “Son of Man” is in the accusative case, which means that it is the object of the verb δεῖ. There may be an idiomatic speech pattern here where nouns in the accusative case act as nominative cases when paired with δεῖ. I am translating it more literally, as a substantive verb (“It is necessary for”) with “son of man” as the object.
4. What is absolutely necessary for the Son of Man? To suffer, to be rejected, to be killed, and to rise. No interpretation of who Jesus is apart from that destiny is correct.  

32  καὶ παρρησίᾳ τὸν λόγον ἐλάλει. καὶ προσλαβόμενος  Πέτρος αὐτὸν ἤρξατο ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτῷ. 
And he was saying the word openly. And having taken him aside, Peter began rebuking him. 
ἐλάλει: IAI 3s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak  2a) to use the tongue or the faculty of speech  2b) to utter articulate sounds
προσλαβόμενος: AMPart nsm, λαμβάνω with πρός towards: to take thereto, that is to say in addition, to take besides. In NT middle, to take or receive to and for one's self
ἤρξατο: AMI 3s, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
ἐπιτιμᾶν,v   3sg, PAI 3s, ἐπιτιμάω,1) to show honor to, to honor  2) to raise the price of  3) to adjudge, award, in the sense of merited penalty  4) to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely  4a) to admonish or charge sharply 
1. This verse has two quite different remarks. First, it notes that Jesus gives the disclosure of v.31 openly. Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus silences remarks about him – a feature that is often called the “Messianic secret” in Mark. The words, “It is necessary for the son of man to suffer …” is no secret. Perhaps it is because Jesus names names (elders, chief priests, scribes) that Mark finds Jesus’ candor in this disclosure so remarkable. This is the only use of παρρησίᾳ in Mark.  
2. It could be that Mark is positing Jesus speaking ‘openly’ over and against the charge to the disciples to stop chiming in to the conversation about who is he with the answer “the Christ.”  Suffering, rejection, death, and rising are the talking points, not whatever others meant by the term “the Christ.” 
3. Now it’s Peter’s turn to “rebuke.” Mark does not say what Peter said in his rebuke, only that Peter rebuked Jesus. Whatever Peter said, it was in response to and a vehement denial of the suffering, rejection, death, and rising of v.31. And the present tense of "rebuke" - which I try to capture with "began rebuking" - may, again, suggest this was a sustained conversation/argument.
4. Again, to beat the drum doggedly, I have to assume that in Mark's time the question of whether to see Jesus primarily as "Christ" (with whatever connotations that might bring) or suffering "Son of Man" continued to have resonance. For example, look at how Matthew presents this story and Jesus' response to Simon Peter - it seems to represent a rival theology to what Mark is presenting. 

33  δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἐπετίμησεν Πέτρῳ καὶ 
λέγει,Υπαγε ὀπίσω μου, Σατανᾶ, ὅτι οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν 
But having turned and having seen his disciples, he rebuked Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan! Because you are not minding the things of God but the things of people.”
ἐπιστραφεὶς: APPart nsm, ἐπιστρέφω, 1) transitively  1a) to turn to  1a1) to the worship of the true God  1b) to cause to return, to bring back 
ἰδὼν: AAPart nsm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know  3) to see, i.e. become acquainted with by experience, to experience
ἐπετίμησεν: AAI 3s, ἐπιτιμάω, 1) to show honour to, to honour  …  4) to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely  4a) to admonish or charge sharply
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Υπαγε: PAImpv 2s, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, bring under  2) to withdraw one's self, to go away, depart 
φρονεῖς: PAI 2s, φρονέω, 1) to have understanding, be wise   2) to feel, to think   2a) to have an opinion of one's self, think of one's self, to be modest, not let one's opinion (though just) of himself exceed the bounds of modesty
1. Here’s that word ἐπιτιμάω (“censured” or “rebuked”) again! It is in vv. 30, 32, and 33, to speak of Jesus-to-Peter, Peter-to-Jesus, and Jesus-to-Peter again.
2. I’m curious as to what role the “having turned and having seen his disciples” plays in this conversation. Is that Mark’s way of explaining the “Satan” reference, that although v.32 implies that Peter took Jesus aside, his remark needed a strong reaction because the others were hearing it (and perhaps agreeing)? I’m speculating, but I suspect the “Get behind me Satan” remark is connected to Peter ‘taking him aside’ in v.32. 
3. “Get behind me Satan” is an interesting phrase. We think of it as the way Jesus actually addressed Satan, because of Matthew 4:10 (temptation story) Jesus uses the phrase, Υπαγε, Σατανᾶ (“Get, Satan!”) Here it is Υπαγε ὀπίσω μου, Σατανᾶ, (“Get behind me, Satan!”). But, the phase “behind me” (ὀπίσω μου) is used in 1:17 and 1:20 and in the next verse (8:34) to describe following as a disciple. Is Jesus calling Peter to become a disciple and not to presume anything more? 
4. By using the name “Satan” with reference to Peter here, Jesus/Mark may be showing that “Satan” is less a proper name, and more of a reference to anyone who tempts Jesus not to do that for which he is destined. Mark’s other uses of the term are in the temptation story (1:13), a discourse in when Jesus is accused of having a demon (3:22-28), and as part of the parable of the sower (4:15). 
5. The verb “minding” (φρονέω) is a very rich term in philosophy. Hans-Georg Gadamer, in Truth and Method, for example, talks about how “phronesis” is a kind of reflective ‘wisdom.’ The KJV translates this verb as “savoring.” I think that’s better than the NIV’s weak “have in mind”. The problem is Peter’s philosophy, not his passing thought. 

34 Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενοςτὸν ὄχλον σὺν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, 
Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθωἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν 
σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. 
And having called the crowd with his disciples, he said to them, “If any wants to follow behind me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
προσκαλεσάμενος: AMP nsm, προσκαλέομαι, 1) to call to  2) to call to one's self  3) to bid to come to one's self  4) metaph.  4a) God is said to call to himself the Gentiles, aliens as they  are from him, by inviting them, through the preaching of the  gospel unto fellowship with himself in the Messiah's kingdom 
θέλει: PAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose  1b) to desire, to wish  1c) to love  1c1) to like to do a thing, be fond of doing  1d) to take delight in, have pleasure 
ἀκολουθεῖν: PAInf, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him  2) to join one as a disciple, become or be his disciple  2a) side with his party 
ἀπαρνησάσθω: AMImpv 3s, ἀπαρνέομαι, 1) to deny  1a) to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone  1b) to forget one's self, lose sight of one's self and one's  own interests. Could this be the opposite of φρονέω in v.33?  
ἀράτω : AAImpv 3s, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up  1a) to raise from the ground, take up: stones  1b) to raise upwards, elevate, lift up: the hand
ἀκολουθείτω: PAImpv 3s, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him  2) to join one as a disciple, become or be his disciple  2a) side with his party 
1. Notice the audience here: Having seen the disciples, he spoke to Peter and now having called to the crowd he speaks to them with his disciples. 
2. I apologize for the male language. In a refined translation, I would strive to make this more gender-inclusive, but since it is singular and since saying “If anyone wants … that one must …” sounds so different from plain speech, I’m translating this literally at this point. 
3. For those of us who read this story two millennia after the fact, the referent for “taking up a cross” is the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps we can assume that was the case for Mark’s readers as well, especially since Jesus has just made the first disclosure about his impending death. Within the narrative itself, however, this is a curious reference. What did it mean – prior to the crucifixion of Jesus – to “take up your cross”? Even in disclosing his impending death, Jesus only says that he will be killed, not crucified on a cross. Did this phrase have meaning prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, or it is only meaningful as a post-crucifixion text – which might indicate that it is not a direct, real-time quote of what Jesus said? 
4. The imperatives, “deny, take, follow” are in the 3rd person, which is odd in the NT. Imperatives are typically in the 2nd person voice. The first two imperatives, ‘deny’ and ‘take,’ are aorist, but he third, ‘follow’ is present. I think that gives the command to ‘follow’ a more ongoing quality. 
5. Regarding the verb ἀπαρνησάσθω (deny): The distinction between φρονεῖς (v.33) on “human things” v. on “divine things” seems to hinge on this willingness to “deny oneself.” The only other use of this verb is in c.14, when Peter (Peter!) denies, not himself, but Jesus.  

35ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν: ὃς δ' ἂν 
ἀπολέσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ καὶ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου σώσει αὐτήν. 
For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it; but whoever will lose his soul on account of me and the gospel, will save it.
θέλῃ: PASubj 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose  1b) to desire, to wish  1c) to love  1c1) to like to do a thing, be fond of doing  1d) to take delight in, have pleasure
σῶσαι: AAInf, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction  1a) one (from injury or peril)  1a1) to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one  suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health
ἀπολέσει: FAI 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy  1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin  1b) render useless  1c) to kill  1d) to declare that one must be put to death  1e) metaph. to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell  1f) to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed  2) to destroy  2a) to lose 
σώσει: FAI 3s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction  1a) one (from injury or peril)  1a1) to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one  suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health
1. The key terms here are the oppositional terms σῴζω and ἀπόλλυμι, which the NRSV translates as “save” and “lose.” 
2. For σῴζω I am using “rescue,” because the term “save” has often lost its original meaning and has become a “religious” word, only to indicate “save from sin and go to heaven.” In Mark 3:4 it is the opposite of “to kill.” In other places (5:23ff or 10:52) it could be translated “to make whole.” Even in 13:13 when Jesus says whoever endures to the end “shall be saved,” it seems to indicate saving one’s life, not simply saving one’s soul. (Cf. 13:20 as well) 
3. Here, σῴζω is the opposite of the very difficult term ἀπόλλυμι. You can see from Mark’s use of this term that it can mean “lose” but typically has a much sharper edge (1:24, 2:22, 3:6, 4:38, 9:22, 9:41, 11:18, 12:9). I am trying to retain the harshness and opposition of these words 
4. It is always a challenge for me to translate “soul” (ψυχὴν). It may be translated “life,” although there are other terms that more easily translate that way. The Greek word is the root for the English words “psyche,” “psychology,” etc., referring to the mind or that part of our existence that seems identifiably different from the body, however interconnected. And, of course, in Greek philosophy, the “immortality of the soul” reified and elevated the psyche to that part of human existence that both pre-existed our birth and continues to exist after our death. One of the challenges of the early church was to translate the Hebrew concepts of life, breath, nephesh, etc., and interpret them alongside of Greek terms. I’m not sure that the process should be as finalized as it appears to be these days. One comment below suggests, “identity,” which I think is promising.
5. Some of the oldest manuscripts omit the words “for my sake.” 

36τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖ ἄνθρωπον κερδῆσαι τὸν κόσμον ὅλον καὶ ζημιωθῆναι τὴν 
ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ; 
For what profits a man to acquire the whole worldand to endanger his soul?
ὠφελεῖ: PAI 3s, ὠφελέω, 1) to assist, to be useful or advantageous, to profit 
κερδῆσαι: AAInf, κερδαίνω, 1) to gain, acquire, to get gain  2) metaph.  2a) of gain arising from shunning or escaping from evil (where we  say "to spare one's self", "be spared")  2b) to gain any one i.e. to win him over to the kingdom of God, to  gain one to faith in Christ  2c) to gain Christ's favour and fellowship 
ζημιωθῆναι: APInf, ζημιόω, 1) to affect with damage, do damage to  2) to sustain damage, to receive injury, suffer loss
1. This verse could be translated in economic terms: what ‘profit’ to ‘gain’ and yet ‘lose’? The words κερδαίνω and ζημιόω (“acquire” and “forfeit/endanger”) seem to be other ways of stating “rescue” and “destroy” in v.35. My guess (another way of saying “this is thin ice”) is that this question echoes a familiar saying or proverb. These are Mark’s only uses of the verbs κερδαίνω and ζημιόω, so I would venture that he is drawing them from a familiar source.
2. My sense is that the title Christ/Messiah in the Roman Empire was all about “gaining the whole world.” I think Jesus has not drifted off into a teaching about spiritual matters, but is continuing the strident corrective conversation that began with his and Peter’s radically different views of how to define who Jesus is. I think this same dynamic is at work in the ‘wisdom’ and ‘foolishness’ of Paul’s letters:  I Corinthians 1:18-25 - “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  
3. An example in this gospel of one who acquires much, yet loses his soul may be Judas, about whom Jesus says in 14:31, “It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Forgetting images of judgment and punishment for a moment, this may be the saddest summary statement about a human life that could ever be expressed. To gain it all, one loses one’s essential humanity. 

37τί γὰρ δοῖἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ; 
For what might a man give in return for his soul?
δοῖ: AASubj 3s, δίδωμι, to give, present (with implied notion of giving freely unforced; opposed to ἀποδίδωμι). Hence, in various connections, to yield, deliver, supply, commit, etc
1. I think the meaning of this verse retains the ‘comparative value’ sense from v.36. Perhaps “What would be a fair exchange for one’s life?” And I think the implied answer is “Nothing. Not even the whole world.” 

38ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ 
μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ, καὶ  υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται αὐτὸν 
ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν ἁγίων.
For whoever might be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the son of man also shall be ashamed when he may come in the glory of his father with the holy angels.” 
ἐπαισχυνθῇ: APSubj 3s, ἐπαισχύνομαι, 1) to be ashamed 
ἐπαισχυνθήσεται: FPI 3s, ἐπαισχύνομαι,1) to be ashamed 
ἔλθῃ: AASubj 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning 
1. Verses 35, 36, 37, and 38 all have the word γὰρ as their second word. γὰρ is a “post-positive” word, meaning that while it appears second in Greek order, we typically translated its “position” as first. And it is also typically translated as “For”. 
2. For me, the γὰρ signifies that vv.35-38 are making an argument or an explanation for what has already been said, namely they explain the words in v.34, “If anyone wants to follow behind me, let that one deny oneself and take up one’s cross and follow me.” 
3. There are several levels at which we can apprise what it means to “be ashamed” of Jesus and his words. It could speak to the boldness with which we proclaim a gospel that is ‘foolishness’ to some. It could speak to the situation facing Mark’s church, during a time of the diaspora caused by the destruction of Jerusalem. Some people see it as a foreshadowing of Peter’s denial and all of the disciples’ fleeing from Jesus at his arrest. In the story, however, it seems to refer to Peter’s rebuke because Peter did not accept Jesus’ disclosure that he was to suffer and die.  

As I indicated in the beginning remark, I am leaning toward translation choices that would characterize this story differently than Peter’s great confession, where Peter – for the first time of any disciple – gets it right in calling Jesus “the Christ.” Matthew seems to see it that way, with Jesus blessing Peter and saying “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you …” etc.  But, in Mark, I don’t believe Peter’s answer is correct – at least it is not what Jesus wanted the disciples to be telling people that he was (the question was “Who are you saying me to be?”) Working under the “messianic secret” motif, many interpretations say that Peter got it right, but Jesus “sternly warned” or “charged” the disciples to keep the “Christ” identification mum because … well, the reason for the messianic secret is not so clear. 
A plain reading would say that Jesus rebuked them for telling others that he was the Christ. The interpretive question is, why would Jesus rebuke them for saying that about him? We, of course, accept it as the right proclamation about Jesus. And, Mark says so in his very first verse, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ …” So, what’s the problem? 

There are seven times that “Christ” (or “Messiah” in some translations) appears in Mark. I am not including Mark 1:34, since it seems to be a late addition in some manuscripts. I will also take them a little out of order, which I hope is not confusing.  
- The first is in Mark 1:1, as I mentioned above (which I read as a title more than the first verse). This introduction seems to have been worked over quite a bit along the way, but few interpreters that I've read call this use of "Christ" into question. 
In three instances the term “Christ” seems to indicate something other than what Jesus intends to be
-  In Mark 12:35, Jesus is teaching in the temple and asks, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” The Scribes have a Christology that Jesus will challenge in this curious teaching. 
- In Mark 13:21, Jesus says, “And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Christ!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it.” It seems that Mark’s community needed to be on guard against false Christological claims.
- In Mark 15:32, the chief priests and the Scribes taunt Jesus, saying, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” To me, this is the significant indicator that there was a Christology in effect among the Jews at that time, which was a Christology apart from the cross
In one instance, Jesus uses the term “Christ” to indicate the dependency of his disciples.
- In Mark 9:41, Jesus says, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
In another instance, Jesus will accept the title “Christ,” but redefine it from one meaning to another. 
- In Mark 14:61 the high priests ask him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus will answer, “I am,” but then he will follow with “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power” and “coming with the clouds of heaven.” 
And in our pericope, Peter will use the term “Christ,” and Jesus respond with a charge to keep silent, then a disclosure of his impending suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. I would argue that Peter is claiming a false Christology and Jesus discloses his impending death as a way of wrestling the term “Christ” away from it cross-less interpretation. 

Jesus’ response to Peter is vehement and Peter’s reaction is vehement. He rejects Jesus’ suffering and death as a necessary part of what Jesus has been preaching about the presence of the Reign of God. And, of course, Jesus’ response to Peter’s rebuke is to demand that if they want any part of what he is about, they too must be willing to die. 

There are two distinct views of discipleship in contention here: One is a godly reflective decision to accept rejection, suffering, dying, and rising; the other is a human reflective decision to “gain the whole world.” I have to think that the Roman Empire is the primary example of this second kind of thinking. Imperial thinking is domination thinking; the imperial leader is the Christ/Messiah but not the Son of Man. That’s the path that Peter wants to take and it is a sore temptation to Jesus – that is my take of the “Satan” reference. In the end, this is not a straight road, but a crossroad. The disciples – at this point – are not yet disciples because (led by Peter) they are not yet behind Jesus, but are imagining themselves on a different path in the manner of imperial dominion. Jesus is going the other way. It will lead to Jerusalem, his rejection, suffering, death, and rising. 

Final thought, then I'll go back to my hovel and sit on my hands, I promise: Werner Kelber has argued that, in Mark's opinion, the church in Jerusalem failed. Mark's resurrection story plainly has the angel/young man at the tomb sending the message that Peter and others are to meet Jesus in Galilee, as he told them previously. Luke happily locates the disciples in Jerusalem, through Pentecost, and after that having a center in Jerusalem where "the Jerusalem Council" meets and where the higher authorities of the church (contra Paul's opinion, perhaps) hold office. If Mark disagrees with the location of the church after the resurrection, I wonder if he likewise disagrees with the church's way of interpreting "the Christ." Many of the associations that accompany the title, "Son of Man" for Jesus, seem to fall off when we speak of the post-resurrection Christ. What if, even post-resurrection, "the Son of Man" continues to be the most appropriate way of understanding and proclaiming who Jesus is? My sense is that if we had a "Son of Manology" more than a "Christology" our vision of the church would be more decidedly anti-imperial, less wealthy, less powerful, perhaps even less haughty, or to use Mark's words, more attuned to "mind thing the things of God" rather than "the things of people." I wonder if Mark is trying valiantly to make the suffering servant motif the ongoing way of following Jesus. At least as of 2024, that is a question at the heart of my own faith journey. 


  1. It's been too long since I studied Greek, so I really appreciate the work you do. Very helpful in getting through some of the words we take for granted.
    Rescue and destroy add a fresh dynamic to this text.

  2. ψυχὴν -- rather than life or soul, what about "identity" as a possible translation of this concept? (I'm borrowing from preaching by Tim Keller). Maybe it's too loaded, but it works for this generation I think. Thanks for your work!

  3. This is going way, way out there. But I am wondering with the use of the term opizo (get behind, and follow), and the use of the term epitiman (censure, honor)--AND the fact that Satan is named, could this, could this possibly be an invitation even to the Evil One to repent? Does God's realm or kingdom stretch that far? I ask this because one of the things Satan can't stand to be is truly a person--truly human. I quote from a lecture at LTS Gettysburg by Robert Jenson years ago: "God is fully and richly embodied for himself, and then for us, as Jesus the Son. Just so, he can give himself over to us and be maltreated by us. Just so his omnipotent rule is not tyranny. A purely disembodied consciousness, on the other hand, a consciousness that was always looking at us and never letting us look back, that always fixed its gaze and never let us see what he looked like, that would be a universal tyrant. And it is, of course, that to which Satan hopelessly aspires. A disembodied spirit with no object to give others, to to see himself in, would be, necessarily, a sort of universal hatred. Which is what ails the devil" p. 37, Lutheran Theological Seminary Bulletin, Winter 1989.

    1. Thanks for going there, Mark. I don't dispute the possibility that the Evil One might be able to, and welcomed to, repent. That would be an interesting scenario and might mark the end of the world as we know it. (Thank goodness.)
      My sense, for this text, is that Jesus is using a meaning-filled title for Peter, just like Peter is using a meaning-filled title for Jesus. I would need some convincing that Jesus is suddenly addressing Satan and not Peter in this conversation.
      Thanks for going there. MD

    2. I always find this 'Satan' as a shocking statement. I think capitalising the satan leads us down a path with its loaded meaning. Being an aramaic orhebrew term simply meaning 'adversary' or 'accuser' rather than turning it into the name of a spiritual being simplifies our attempt to come to grips with what Jesus is saying here and is more in line with the gist of this blog Mark.

  4. thanks for your work. parrhesia. thanks for the work of knowing/checking that this word is only used here. you always offer insights and fresh perspective.

  5. Mark,
    I am a Lutheran Pastor in Helena and I want to thank you for your insight translations and comments. You are one of the sources I go to on a weekly basis for exegetical preparation! Great work Mark! Thank you. Brad

    1. Thank you, Brad. May your service to the folks in Helena be blessed.

  6. Thank you so much for your incredible work. This blog is always my first stop in my sermon prep.

  7. I know it's late in the week, but here is a cut on this text: Jesus, in trying to assess the honor ascribed to him by the public (covered already in 6:14-16) as understood by the disciples asks them the question. And then Jesus asks about the level of honor ascribed by the in-group (disciples). They give the correct answer, but Jesus knows they still don't understand (8:21), so he "rebukes" them in telling them not to spread disinformation. Jesus then teaches them what it means for him to carry that label. Peter, still not understanding (nor do the 11), "rebukes" Jesus which just goes to show that Jesus was correct in "rebuking" the disciples in v. 30. Jesus then teaches the crowd (along with the disciples who usually in Mark are the only ones to get the in-depth teachings) what it means for them (and us) as followers for Jesus to be the suffering Son of Man (anointed one). Lesson for me: Don't tell people who Jesus is unless you truly know--the suffering son of man. Don't just tell about the Mark 1:1 - 8:26 Jesus. At least that's how I read it. And indeed, epitimao does indeed provide the thread for the interpretation.

    1. Hi Mark. That sounds meaningful to me. Thanks for the summary.

  8. Re: "It seems to me that, for Mark, Jesus is really resisting this title, not just trying to control the message or keep it a secret."
    "the “Hidden Messiah” motif in Second Temple Jewish literature had been developed under the strong influence of this verse. Furthermore, if a man considered himself to be the messiah, he had to be silent about his messiahship until the appointed time."

    1. Thanks for this reference. I'm not entirely sure that I find it convincing, but it is certainly informative. Thanks again.

  9. I have been using your blog to help me in my sermon prep for several years and find them quite useful. This week's blog is no exception, giving me new insight into a critical Christological pericope. However, I do believe the disciples would have understood Jesus's use of the phrase "take up his cross" as a precursor to death. The Romans had used crucifixion as a means to eliminate rebels for many years prior to the first century, and the disciples would have known that this would be the fate of anyone seen by the Roman authorities as a threat to their authority. I believe Jesus was telling (warning) his followers they would be seen as rebels at some point.

    1. Hi David, Thanks for the comment. Yes, I agree with you that "take up your cross" would have meant facing death to Jesus' immediate audience. I should have shaped my words a bit differently. What I wanted to show was that for Mark's immediate audience (readership), and certainly for those of us reading this text today, the comment takes place following Jesus' death on a cross, which gives is different meaning than it would have had for Jesus' immediate audience.
      Given that there were other ways to die as rebels at the hands of the Empire - John's beheading is one - I think this specific manner of risking one's life is mostly a post-Jesus'-crucifixion reference, not just a reference to a particularly obscene manner of execution.

  10. Thanks so much for this (and everything), Mark. You've opened up some possibilities about this section, hidden all these decades by the lectionary and the English translations which prioritize graceful English over the plain text.

    First, you've opened my eyes to the possibility (at least) that Jesus teaching about taking up the cross ("follow behind me") is intended as a direct commentary on his rebuke of Peter ("get behind me"), linked by the repeated "behind". It makes me think that when he turns to the crowd between the two, it's like he's saying "let's see what we can learn from this, shall we?".

    Second, the repetition of "follow" in the line that begins "if anyone would follow after me..." (usually changed to something like "come after" to avoid the repetition) could actually be the point: an almost Buddhist "don't think just do" -- "if you want to follow me, just follow." Don't overthink it, don't argue about it (as Peter has just done), just do it. This dovetails nicely with the Voice on the mountain that comes next -- "Listen to him."

    1. Hi MWP,
      Thanks for your gracious comments and for furthering the thoughts in a very helpful way. May we all have some success in listening and following.
      Thanks again,


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